For some, the value of a piece of land can be directly measured by a dollar amount. For others, its worth comes from the positive effect the land might have on an area.
In Murfreesboro, two particular downtown areas are being eyed for development that will accommodate the ongoing growth in the city (which the United States Census Bureau says is America’s tenth fastest growing city). Those areas are the Historic Murfreesboro Bottoms and the North Highland Avenue areas, both subjects of recent Murfreesboro Planning Commission studies that make the case for their use as areas that can accommodate new retail and housing opportunities.
One proposed development, on property near the Oaklands Park Wetland, raises some concerns for some residents. The property is currently scheduled to accommodate between 70 and 91 townhouses. And though this proposed construction isn’t on the wetland area, the potential for making a negative impact on the area has caused a stir among worried residents; a change.org petition titled “Save Oaklands Park Wetland from 91 townhouse development” has been circulating within the community, created with the intent of persuading Murfreesboro City Council members to action after other attempts at starting a civic dialog failed to deter the development.
Drafter of the petition Justyna Kostkowska elaborated on the importance of the petition. One of the “80-plus area resident homeowners who live in the closest proximity to Oaklands Park Wetland,” Kostkowska says that those adjacent to the property stand to lose the most with the loss of the “large neighborhood wooded area” and a traffic surge.
“The response has been overwhelming,” says Kostkowska. “We collected 700 signatures in four days. Over 95 percent of the signatories are area residents. We have formed a Save the Oaklands Wetland [Facebook] group which has attracted over a hundred  members in two days. People care about this unique place and do not want it destroyed. We hope to get our voices heard and for the city elected officials to listen to the needs of their citizens. This is the only big green area left in the heart of the city. We who live here need it for our quality of life.”
Kostkowska says that pollution of the creek would affect “the longest wildlife corridor in the heart of the city with 131 species of birds documented there, deer, wild turkeys and amphibians,” and shares that “endangered plants like Blue Water-Speedwell” would be at risk. She also says that Native American artifacts found nearby add an anthropological significance to the area, and that residents are still concerned about the potential for flooding with the development.
Issues like heavy traffic along North Highland are anticipated by protesters to clog nearby roads affect police response time; as Kostkowska states, “A traffic impact study was not done to determine if the area can accommodate this much more congestion.” She also raises concerns about the runoff from the houses affecting the neighboring wetlands, and the association between apartment complexes and the string of recent shootings in the city.
“This development is presented as a revitalizing project to the area, but all it is is a short-term boost to the developers and real estate agents,” she adds. “What will be gained is a fraction of the value of the quality of life of the citizens that will be irretrievably lost.”
Local real estate broker Bill Jakes—known by many as the administrator of the Facebook group “Downtown Dwellers”—represents eight family members of the late Dr. Alvah White, who are the sellers of the property in question. He says that the family is concerned about the effect the property’s sale will have on the environment, and that they’ve already donated seven acres of land for wetlands preservation. It should also be noted that, according to Jakes, he served on the board of the Oaklands Mansion as the chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, and that efforts to sell the property for preservation efforts fell apart. Jakes shares that he’s no longer serving the Oaklands Mansion board, citing his responsibilities to the property owners.
Speaking to the Pulse, Jakes explains what he sees as an untruthful campaign caused by the protesters.
“I have respectfully taken issue with the change.org petition and its creator,” he says “based on what seem like deceptive tactics to upset the public.”
Jakes claims the original picture used by the petition was one depicting Maney Spring. He also says that the name “Oaklands Park Wetlands” is misleading.
Nevertheless, Jakes still commends people for being concerned about the happenings of their community.
“The main issue that seems to be overlooked by most is that this property has been studied at length and has already been granted approval for development,” Jakes said. “I have in my possession a previous wetland study that states ‘there may exist areas, which may be considered as wetlands at the subject property. As a general description, however, owing to the absence of hydrophytic vegetation in most of the areas of the subject property, the areas which may be considered to exhibit all three of the criteria defining wetlands are limited and exist as relatively isolated pockets within the subject property.’”
Jakes shares that the 2.5 acres of “justifiable wetlands” was already among the seven acres donated as a gift to the city.
View the petition here.
For anyone who wants to have their opinion heard by the City Council, the final public hearing for the rezoning of the property near Oaklands Park is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, June 15, at Murfreesboro City Hall.